Pro-life group banned from joining union at Scottish university

A view showing The University of Glasgow in the middle from the viewing platform of the Glasgow Tower at Science Centre. Picture: SWNS
A view showing The University of Glasgow in the middle from the viewing platform of the Glasgow Tower at Science Centre. Picture: SWNS
Have your say

A pro-life group banned from membership of a student union at the University of Glasgow has threatened legal action in a row over freedom of speech.

Glasgow Students for Life, which argues for alternatives to abortion and euthanasia, was refused affiliation with the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) - because the aims of the society did not align with the values of the council.

President of the SRC Lauren McDougall said: “The executive view affiliation as a form of endorsement because affiliated clubs and societies are permitted to use our branding in their promotional material.

READ MORE: Cannabis shop opens in old police box in Scotland

“Given the SRC’s campaigning on a number of related social issues over the years, including support for the recent Repeal the 8th campaign in Ireland, it would be contrary to our ethos to endorse a society which calls for limited rights for women.”

A letter from the SRC to Glasgow Students for Life said: “Although we fully support freedom of expression, we feel your society crosses a line whereby that expression calls for limited rights for others to choose what happens with their own bodies.

READ MORE: Scottish graduate’s ambition to join police crushed because estranged dad has record

“We continue to believe therefore that the aims of your society do not align with the ethos of the SRC and its values.

“You have the right, of course, to exist as a club in the university and to meet as a student society.

“I’m afraid however that I am unable to grant SRC affiliation.”

Following the decision, Glasgow Students for Life said they had submitted a complaint arguing that the SRC had violated the 2010 Equality Act by discriminating against them because of their beliefs.

The group also argues the SRC has violated its own equality and diversity policy in denying them access to facilities.

It says that they risk breaching the 2016 Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act which says universities should protect freedoms to “present controversial or unpopular points of view”.

A statement from the group said: “This decision is an assault on freedom of speech at Glasgow University which is legally obliged to foster an environment of academic freedom.

“We believe this reasoning to be antithetical to the essence of academic freedom, which requires that students and staff alike would able to express their opinions on all issues no matter how controversial.

“The SRC membership matters to us because it will give us the right to use rooms on university campus, make us eligible for university funding, allow us to advertise and give us access to many other small things, such as having a stall at the freshers’ fair.

“Affiliation with the SRC also grants us a certain status of legitimacy within the university; a legitimacy that should be afforded to all student societies equally, regardless of their beliefs.”

Jamie McGowan, who acts as a legal advisor to the group, added: “We are hoping the SRC will overturn this decision, otherwise the group will have to seek remedy in the courts.

“The legal argument is pretty strong given that philosophical beliefs such as those of the pro-life movement are considered to be a protected characteristic in Scots Law.”

In October a similar ban on pro-life groups at Strathclyde University was lifted by the students’ association after a long-running battle.

The row comes at a time when there are growing concerns universities have become too politically correct and are stifling free speech by banning anything that causes offence.

In 2014, Oxford University cancelled a debate on abortion after female students complained that they would be offended by the presence of men on the panel.

And Cardiff University students tried to ban the feminist icon Germaine Greer because she once wrote that a man who was castrated would not behave like a woman, which was construed as offensive to transsexuals.

The SRC is expected to bring the complaint in relation to the decision before a meeting of its full council in December.